Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was captured by Pakistani Army on Wednesday, will be back in India tomorrow.
In a major development that is bound to have an impact on the tense situation between the two neighbours, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced in his country’s parliament that the IAF pilot will be released as a peace gesture.
The announcement of the release was welcomed by all the lawmakers in Pakistan’s National Assembly as well as many politicians in India.
But what is noteworthy is the statement by US President Donald Trump at Hanoi just hours before Pakistan’s announcement.
In the Vietnamese capital for a summit meeting with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, the US President threw a hint that India and Pakistan might soon de-escalate the tensions that started after Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) killed 40 CRPF troopers in a suicide attack convoy in Pulwama on 14 February.
“I think reasonably attractive news from Pakistan and India. They’ve been going at it and we have been involved and have them stop,” said Trump in his characteristic style.
“We have some reasonably decent news. Hopefully it’s going to be coming to an end, going on for a long time, decades and decades,” he said without elaborating further on the ‘news’ he had.
Imran Khan’s announcement came within hours of Trump’s statement and approximately half-an-hour before a joint press conference of the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force, which was scheduled for 5 pm. The press conference was postponed to 7 pm after Khan’s announcement.
“In our desire for peace, I announce that tomorrow, and as a first step to open negotiations, Pakistan will be releasing the Indian Air Force officer in our custody,” Khan said.
The announcement of Wg Cdr Abhinandan’s release came on the day when Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told a Pakistani news channel that Imran Khan is ready for talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi over phone and offer peace.
In an interview to Geo News, Qureshi also said that Pakistan is willing to consider returning the Indian pilot if it helps in de-escalation of the current situation between the two nations.
“If there is de-escalation with the return of this [Indian] pilot, Pakistan is willing to consider this. We are ready for all positive engagement,” he said.
The IAF pilot was captured on Wednesday after an aerial combat between Indian and Pakistani fighter planes.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had on Wednesday evening said that the IAF lost a MiG 21 Bison aircraft in an engagement with Pakistani Air Force who had violated Indian airspace on Wednesday. The government had confirmed that a pilot was missing in action.
India had on Wednesday summoned the Pakistani envoy and handed over a demarche demanding the “immediate and safe return” of the pilot. It also strongly objected to Pakistan’s “vulgar display” of the pilot and said Pakistan “would be well-advised to ensure that no harm comes to him”.
Speaking about the IAF fighter pilot captured by Pakistan, the Ministry of Defence officials said on Thursday that he was ill-treated by the Pakistan Army in violation of the Geneva Convention.
India had demanded that Wg Cdr Abhinandan be “repatriated unconditionally and immediately” adding that there was “no question of any deal”.